Please briefly describe yourself and your practice; who are you and what do you do?

My name is Gaia, I’m a visual artist based in Zurich, my favorite emoji is the pink ribbon, I love 70s Horror movies, and during my bachelor’s degree, I had the pivotal realization that being a girl on the internet at night needs to be studied. For most of my life, I have performed according to the heteronormative, biopolitical fiction of femininity, and as far as I can remember, I have always been very online. Every day, I click and scroll through different platforms, take screenshots, skim through comments, collect, and save. Sometimes I feel like I’m strolling through a massive department store – an endless buffet of glowing, filtered, saccharine desirables. This cultural rag-picking builds the foundation of my practice. It is rooted in the argument ‘the personal is political‘ which underscores the connections between personal experience and larger systemic structures. The personal is wholly impersonal and I love that! As we increasingly document and share our lives online, it becomes more and more palpable that there are no original experiences. This constant online self-broadcast and the self-policing that comes with it are at the core of my research. I’m also obsessed with the slippery concept of authenticity in the eye of our highly tailored social media feeds and the attention economy. I explore these themes through the figure of the Girl as the ideal consumer model. 

What about your own personal experience?

All of my works have an auto-fictional starting point, an anecdote that I skew and abstract, turning it into a faint undercurrent that I rarely refer to. It is a bit contradictory in light of what I just said but I like it better that way. It affords me flexibility and is more fun. Maybe I’m also a tad scared of getting pigeonholed.

No matter how dispassionate or large a vision of the world a woman formulates, whenever it includes her own experience and emotion, the telescope’s turned back on her

Chris Kraus in I Love Dick, 1997

This is also why I prefer saying auto-fictional to auto-biographical in my case. By centering the self-mythology that goes into our identity, it hints at the twofoldness of the personal while also hollowing the idea of an innate, authentic self. It opens up my work, creates tiny cracks through which my presence slips out and in again – through which the viewer’s presence slips in and out again. My experience will forever be the backbone of my practice but never the leading role.

How do your ideas take shape through the use of your medium?

My choice of medium is always a question of how to formalize my thoughts in a way that makes sense storytelling-wise – how can I hold somebody’s attention, touch them on a visceral level, and leave an impression? Whichever medium I end up using, it is mainly a matter of mediating an idea or feeling, creating an object that might imply a grander event or narrative. Right now, I mostly work with installation, drawing, and text.

Gaia Del Santo, touching grass is not enough at this point (video still), ZHDK Exhibition, 2022

Could you elaborate on the themes of authenticity and self-representation in the age of social media?

As products in the attention economy, we are encouraged to continually advertise ourselves via photo dumps, outfit-of-the day-videos, or post-workout stories, trying to differentiate ourselves from the competition through micro labels and endless ‚subversion‘. In the end, however, we all sell pretty much the same since capitalism never incentivizes differentiation as much as conformity, as Rayne Fischer-Quann writes in her essay ‚micro-individualtiy‘ (2023). 

Our efforts at originality are limited to the consumer identities presented to us. Of course, this is neither inherently online nor anything new, but there is something unprecedented about the consumerism of the TikTok era. You can only curate and idealize your life and behavior so much AFK. Online, on the other hand, with all the different tools available to us, you can create literal advertisements for yourself. On top of that, social media affords us a potential, ever-present audience. We are presented with a concrete social motive prompting us to see the world and ourselves through the supposed lens of others, to identify what they might like and what will be favored by an algorithm. This awareness becomes especially palpable in selfie practices. The way we contort our bodies and awkwardly hold our arms, makes an overt reference to the other side of the camera.

‚No beautiful surface is without its terrible depth’

Tiqqun in Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl, 2007

In general, how we engage with our image and the social hierarchies attached to it becomes a lot more tangible on social media, which is why our self-broadcast is often labeled as superficial or lacking authenticity. I think this sentiment is partially rooted in the outdated, romantic idea of an unmediated aura or an intrinsic individuality that we must save from the supposedly falsifying vortex of digital reproduction. 

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #167, 1985

How does the figure of the Girl come into play here?

While it may be true that everyone is encouraged to participate in this auto-commodification today, feminine-performing people are still far more socio-economically dependent on this act of self-branding and self-promotion than male-performing people. And despite the unrelenting pressure to conform to the spectacle that is femininity, we are ridiculed and considered vain or outright fake for doing so.

’[…]Young-Girls are spectacles, are narcissists, are consumers because those are the very criterion which must be met to be a young woman and also a part of society’

Sarah Gram in The Young-Girl and the Selfie, 2013

A selfie functions as a representation of all the labor that goes into performing femininity and, in the case of social media, an opportunity for public recognition of it too. What is also noteworthy are the often ignored and even naturalized gendered aspects in the discourse around selfie practices. 

The first image that comes to mind if one thinks of a selfie is most likely of a woman in her early 20s. Zoomers and Gen Alphas will probably picture a girl holding her phone, arms raised, posing with a slight ahegao expression or dissociative pout, whereas Millennials will imagine somebody taking a mirror selfie with the flash on, and maybe using a digicam instead of a phone, I’d say. In any case, it seems like a mere matter of trite, self-centered attention-grabbing to many people. 

Gaia Del Santo, machine girl (detail), 2022

Since their advent, selfies have been defined as narcissistic, sexually improper, and feminine. Instead of viewing them as temporally situated, cultural artifacts and legitimate tools for self-expression, they have become a locus for the targeted discipline of girls and women concealed beneath a veneer of photographic discussion. The research, skills, and time for taking a ‘good‘ selfie are rarely acknowledged.

When and how did the topic of self-representation first catch your eye?

My interest in self-representation and its broadcast online goes way back. Growing up on the internet, I was always involved in some sort of self-representational play. With every new profile, I reinvented myself. I would adorn my persona with new images, speak differently, pretend to be older, be a boy, look like my favorite celebrity crush, or live elsewhere. It was a way of toying with power dynamics. 

Aside from exchanging with faceless users, my favorite activities included watching Get Ready With Me’s on YouTube, making Polyvore vision boards, curating my Tumblr blog, and taking selfies. Mostly feminine-coded, they circle the meticulous textual construction of one’s image, forever running in emulation. 

At that time, I did not think much of it. I was just a girl on the internet, usually at night, pretending to be asleep. It was only during my studies that I came to reflect on my online experiences more critically. Some key figures who greatly impacted my vectors of thought would be Amalia Ulman, Legacy Russell, Nathan Jurgenson, and Brad Troemel. 

Social media is real life partly because real life is always mediated through the logics and technologies of human habit, interest, power, and resistance.

Nathan Jurgenson in The Social Photo: On Photography and Social Media, 2019

Why does being a girl on the internet matter to you? Why should it matter to anyone else?

As we all know, the internet is not some wonderland vacuum existing beyond the dominance of patriarchal ideologies. Neither is it more public than a bar, sidewalk, or shopping mall. Ultimately, there is someone who owns and runs that space and can kick you out if they do not like what you are doing, as Laurie Penny puts it in their book Cybersexism: Sex, Gender, and Power on the Internet (2013). Luckily enough, it is not monolithic. There are many internets, and many platforms offering means to experiment with and negotiate identity. This is crucial for feminine-performing users and even more pressing for racialized, queer, and gender-nonconforming people. Such spaces allow us to assert our position as active meaning-makers and cultural producers, discuss gender-specific experiences, seek support, share interests – practice our agency. Therefore, it is imperative to analyze net cultural trends addressing or pushed by said groups, all the while being wary of the grip platform capitalism has on us. 


Born in Zurich in 1999, Gaia Del Santo attended ZHdK, completing the BA Fine Arts program in 2022 with distinction. Her work centers around our constant online self-broadcast and the slippery concept of authenticity in the eye of social media and the attention economy. She explores these themes through the figure of the Girl as the ideal consumer model.

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